Anyone who has read, healing or binge-watched the eye-opening 13 Reasons Why is now undoubtedly left reeling and hyper-aware of factors which can contribute to teenage (and adult!) suicide. Bullying, sexual harassment, peer and parent pressure, mental illness are all such important issues that we must tackle in order to prevent young people from taking their own lives. Most people can sympathise with high school being a daunting and sometimes traumatic period of one’s life, but what happens when depression and suicidal thoughts arise at university, aka the ‘best 3 years of our lives!’, as we’re often told?? Having studied in Bristol these past 3 years, I have been overwhelmed by recent reports indicating as many as 5 University of Bristol students took their lives in this current academic year (2016-2017). Miranda Williams, Daniel Green, Lara Nosiru, Kim Long and Elsa Scaburri were all aged between 18 and 23 years old and most of them were in the first term of their first year at university.
It’s heartbreaking to know that these young, beautiful and talented people could not find the support and help they needed to overcome emotional hardship during a difficult time as university. Their tragic suicides have raised many conversations between myself and my student friends about the mental strain that being a university student can have on people. Firstly, moving away from home IS a BIG deal – excitement, or not. I remember the day I left for uni, I was shaking with anticipation, I was SO ready to attend all of the Fresher’s Week nights out, meet guys, post pictures of myself having fun, finally having my own bedroom, my independence etc etc.. until the initial ‘welcome to uni’ nights out faded and it finally hit me that I am in this big city to stay. I remember this as such a clear memory; actually feeling physically sick, knowing that home wasn’t around the corner, that only a week into moving into my accommodation, my housemates were still strangers and I had to sort things out for myself. A lot of people have this misconception of university being this one big party, but from my experience, I found my first year extremely difficult. Having to juggle the money I didn’t have, cook food that would actually sustain me, as well as keep up with my outgoing new friends all proved to be so overwhelming. A lot of the times, I would just skip lectures and sleep all day. That, or attend seminars, then come home and immediately hide in bed. What didn’t help, was the pressure to constantly appear as if I was having fun. There’s only so many hungover lectures you can endure before realising that going out 3-4 times a week is exhausting – but I still did it, I didn’t want to be ‘boring’. I was the only one from my close friendship group to attend uni and often, I felt like I had this responsibility to make it look fun, to not come back home too often. Social media was my worst enemy. I found myself comparing my experiences at uni with other people and feeling down at other people having a seemingly smooth transition into university. But no one posts status’ or pictures of their swollen eyes after a night of home-sick crying, right?
As a result of overcrowded well-being services, I ended up seeking counselling outside of university and to this day, I’m so glad I did that. Students feel pressurised to be upbeat, outgoing and constantly happy at uni because no one speaks about the bad days. People don’t want to kill the atmosphere by saying they’re home-sick, or depressed. But it’s so important to TALK. You need to know that you’re not alone and that so many people feel the same way as you do. Don’t be embarrassed or ashamed to say you’re finding the transition from normal life to uni life hard, because chances are, your flatmates do too. Talk to each other! I’m about to graduate and it’s only now that my friends and I confided in each other about the hardship and mental strain we endured at the beginning of university. We were all amazed at how much of taboo topic depression amongst young students could be. However, acknowledging that this happens and talking, seeking help and uplifting one another is key to knowing that you’re not going to feel like this forever.
Written by Melissa Zuu